The Myth of Perception as it relates to ISIS

Myth #3: ISIS is part of al-Qaeda (exceprt from a Cardstack by Zack Beauchamp)

Post by Taelyr Roberts | The Myth of Perception | Geographic Location: Iraq

The key thing to understand about ISIS and al-Qaeda is that they are competitors, not allies, and certainly not part of the same larger group.

ISIS used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the group split apart from al-Qaeda in February 2014 because it wouldn’t listen to al-Qaeda HQ’s commands, including orders to curtail its violence against civilians. (That’s right: it was too violent for al-Qaeda.) This ISIS-AQ divorce is a key reason why ISIS is so unremittingly violent, yet many people still lump the two groups together.

For years, al-Qaeda was the clear leader of the global jihadist movement. The loose network of militant groups, internet forums, and “lone wolf” individuals saw al-Qaeda as the gold standard — and many pledged allegiance to it or established some kind of junior-partner working relationship.

iraqi jihadis

Unidentified Iraqi militants. STR/AFP/Getty Images

When ISIS broke off, it upended everything. By taking a chunk of territory the size of Belgium in the heart of the Arab world, ISIS had come much closer to the end-goal of an Islamic caliphate than al-Qaeda ever did. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem so clear that Islamist groups around the world should pledge themselves to al-Qaeda. ISIS fought openly with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s Syria branch — and outperformed it on the battlefield. Today, ISIS controls far more territory in Syria than Jabhat.

This ideological competition drives ISIS to be more violent. “They’re in competition with al-Qaeda, and they want to be the leader,” JM Berger, the editor of Intelwire and an expert on violent extremism, said. According to Berger, one way they do that is by broadcasting images of their military prowess worldwide. In the sick, screwed up world of Islamic extremism, images of massacres are a show of strength.

When ISIS executed American journalist James Foley and put the video on YouTube, or when it declared its intention to wipe out Iraq’s Christians and Yazidis, it’s not doing it just because they can, although among individual militants indulging a sick desire is certainly part of it. At a broader level, this part of ISIS’s plan to beat al-Qaeda and spread the ISIS brand globally.

The worst part: There’s some evidence this plan is working. Even before ISIS’s rapid advance in June, ISIS was wresting groups in Tunisia and Libya away from al-Qaeda’s allegiance to their own. There have been ISIS-linked suicide bombings as far afield as Malyasia.

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Cyber Secrecy: Cicada 3301

Terrence Shu


Real-world example: Cicada 3301

Where/when: 2012-2014, over the Internet

Sub-concepts: anonymity, Alternate Reality Game, cyber intelligence

Cicada 3301 refers to a set of clues that have appeared on the internet, posed a challenge to cryptanalysts, data analysts, and the like. The stated intent was to recruit capable individuals to some unknown cause; if you solved the clues you would supposedly be deemed worthy. There has been no known resolution to the puzzles, and their origins and purpose still remain unknown.
Cicada 3301 relies heavily on secrecy in its application and appeal. Many have speculated that it was some sort of recruitment process for government intelligence agencies or fringe hacker groups. Regardless, the entertaining possibility that solving these elaborate puzzles and clues could open doors to some hidden, secret organization is undoubtedly at the heart of the appeal. As I wrote about the reading on The Sibyl: if everything you know is mundane and boring, then the unknown is suddenly much more attractive, as it entertains the possibility of being new, exciting, perfect, godly, exceptional. Whoever or whatever organization is behind Cicada 3301 clearly relies heavily on this phenomenon to attract players for their alternate reality game.

The fact that the clue chain has no confirmed resolution so far adds to the mystique. In our minds, the two possibilities are either: that it is thus far unsolvable, and whoever solves it must have some kind of special destiny; or, that those who have solved it are either silenced by its creator through force or through induction into whatever realm of secrecy the puzzle originated from. Either way, you can imagine how disappointing and ultimately forgettable it would be for a cryptographic genius to solve the puzzle and then come out and say, “Guys don’t hold your breath, it was really nothing.” As long as it remains unsolved, Cicada 3301 can inspire whatever kind of secret clandestine fantasy in the masses, and serves as evidence of a darker, hidden side of the world of cyber intelligence. In this way, it joins the ranks of such esoteric terms as the Deep Web or “hacktivism”.

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Hajime’s Shibari: Japanese Rope Bondage


Name: Anastasia Hassiotis

Concept: Pleasure

Sub- Concepts: Pain, power, movement, sensation

Region: Japan

Description: The Shibari culture in Japan is an ancient tradition where men (rope masters) tie up women using a red rope bondage as a way to connect, while women experience pleasure and pain. Hajime is a rope master who has been particing Shibari for years now and has recently used this tradition as a form of avant –garde art. He also displays his photography on his website in an attempt to make people, especially the Western culture, understand this form of art that goes back into centuries.

Interpretation: There are a lot of interpretations people have when it comes to the concept of pleasure, however the Shibari art is something that a lot of people would find hard to understand as pleasurable. The reason behind that is that the norm usually excludes any sort of pain involved in pleasure and pleasurable experiences, while tying up someone to provide pleasure involves pain, movement, while the rope master is the one in power. In order though to understand this form of art and whether or not there is actual pleasure in it, it is very important to look deep into the point of view of the ropework and in particular what do the people who practice it consider it to be and what do they experience. For example, Hajime himself mentions that people do not understand this art because they don’t really know anything about it and what he says that people should know is that there is a connection that arises between the rope master and the woman during this experience. Moreover, he says that you have to care more about the model than yourself and you should always feel a sense of love when you’re tying up someone. When interpreting these comments using the concept of pleasure, it seems that people often do not consider the love connection that actually exists between the partners and that is very important because the women need to feel this way in order to fully trust the rope master and thus let themselves feel pleasure. The concepts of power, pain and movement combined produce a higher sense of pleasure to the participants, greater than what an actual “typical” pleasurable moment would do.


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Transformed to Killing Machines


Bennett Deady

Region/ Concepts: Chicago

Sub-concepts: Destruction, transformation

Description: Whether kidnapped, recruited after witnessing the murdering of their own family or choosing to join as one last hope for survival, warlords are continuously creating young killing machines in war-torn nations across the world. Article 2007.

Interpretation: For a rebel leader, children are perfect recruits. They are young, vulnerable and most likely in a very damaged state making it easy to transform their innocence to evil. In Africa, children that have joined the rebels as a last resort or that have been forced into the group are given drugs, brainwashed, trained and then sent to battle. These children are without a choice and will most likely become weapons used to benefit the rebel’s cause. Some quickly catch on to such evil doings and become accustomed and embracing to the violence. Children as young as eight years old may become victim of these crimes, children who’s AK-47s are taller than they are. For the rebel soldiers of this war, there is nothing wrong with this in fact it makes perfect sense to them. Morals are completely out of the question so utilizing children easy to manipulate and mold into weapons is only something that can help them fight for their beliefs. For these men, they are treating children the same way that they had once been treated, creating them the same way they had once been created. It’s a terribly unfortunate way of life in that part of the world almost impossible to avoid and the fact is that so many of these children will continue to be forced and tricked into becoming exactly what they fear most.

One story in particular within this article is near impossible to believe, an unimaginable act of evil forced upon someone, that someone being a young girl. Once indoctrinated, these boys and girls are usually forced to execute friends and family members, assuming of course they have not already been killed by the rebel troops that come storming through their villages. Angela, a twelve-year-old victim, eventually rescued from the war, told the Human Rights Watch that she was forced to kill a friend of hers, and in an attempt to teach children not to cry she was forced to do this more than once. “I closed my eyes and fired the gun, but I didn’t hit her. So I shot her again,” she said. “I had to bury her and put dirt on top of her.” Another recruit described a scene in which he watched a group of older rebels gun down mothers and kill their babies, swinging them by their legs and smashing them against rocks.

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Depictions of hell

Name: Vladimir Ullmann-Hamon

Subconcepts: Cruelty, Torture, Religion, Disfigurement

Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński tried to depict visions of hell through painting. The particularity of this painter is that he has no formal artistic education or religious upbringing. His paintings have been described as “apocalyptic,” but he himself describes them as hopeful and amusing. His inspiration for his art is supposed to have mostly come from music.

What is interesting to note is the recurring theme throughout his work of disfigurement. Disfigurement, the act of impairing one’s appearance indefinitely, is arguably the most intimate form of torture. Unlike other forms of torture, the victim will be unable to hide its scars and is cursed to live forever as the “muse” of its torturer. In terms of psychological damage, it would take an incommensurable effort to heal from such a wound. This is because the means by which one would start the healing process would be to confirm one’s identity as separate from the original trauma, however, disfigurement robs one of that identity. In order to deal with the trauma one would have to embrace its new identity even though it now belongs to the person responsible for the disfigurement. Managing this shift in consciousness is a prowess that would make even the strongest willed people tremble.

Depictions of hell by more classical painters such as Bosch invoke feelings such as fear, disgust and revulsion because they are directly related to the divine, and although the bible’s description of hell is gruesome it at least has the characteristic of being in the realm of known. Zdzisław Beksiński’s depiction of hell provokes feelings much more profound feelings such as angst because it deals with the irreversible and the unknown.


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Group Suicide

Name: Vladimir Ullmann-Hamon

Concept: Cruelty

Sub-concepts: Mind control, Indoctrination, Suicide


On November 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana the mass suicide of the followers of cult People’s temple took place. The People’s temple was a new religious movement that had its roots in Christianity and Protestantism. Jim Jones, founder of the cult, developed a belief called Translation; in which he and his followers would all die together in order to move to another planet for a life of bliss. Mass suicides were practiced in which his followers pretend to drink poison and fell to the ground. There were a total of 909 deaths, 300 of which were children.

This level of indoctrination is the closest possible thing to mind control. A level of belief so high that the physical survival instinct is bypassed. This displays a rupture between the body and the mind. Unlike most suicides that are due to severe depressions, the reason for this suicide was based around a spiritual belief. (However, a distinction needs to be made: a group suicide does not resemble a suicide bombing or a sacrificial killing like the Kamikaze because although both of these may be based around spiritual belief their nature is perceived as “heroic” and related to a higher purpose). The ideals for the mass suicide are intrinsically social. The promised after life is not one based around one person’s Id, but on a more social utopia. This breaks away from other suicides in a major way. Other types of suicides are in their essence a moment of aloneness. A perception that the only important thing on earth at that particular moment is yourself.

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The Killdozer

Name: Vladimir Ullmann-Hamon

Sub-concepts: Madness, Societal pressure, Vengeance


On June 4th 2004 Marvin Heemeyer, a citizen of Granby Colorado, went on a rampage and with a machine of his own making (a “killdozer”) destroyed 13 buildings worth a collective of 7 million dollars. The origins of the rampage arose from a zoning dispute in which the town’s plan to build a cement plant would have caused Heemeyer’s business to go bankrupt. Unlike other similar outliers of society, Marvin didn’t seem to display any social behavior disorders. His friends and relatives described him as an enjoyable person. Marvin sold his business and spent a year and half building his “killdozer” and premeditating the town’s destruction.

It is interesting to notice that neither Marvin’s target nor his source were human. The zoning commission and the courts refused to hear any of his complaints. The various petitions and appeals he filed proved fruitless. His frustration was attached to the legislative structure of the town. But instead of targeting individuals, Marvin transferred his fixation on the town itself. Unlike other outliers, such as Elliot Rodger, who displayed characteristics of anti-social behavior (UC shootings), he did not reduce the source of his “mal de vivre” to a human component, but instead targeted the institution directly. This act can be characterized as an act of provocation above all else. Marvin destroyed the objects that the zoning commission and the laws he was trying to appeal were trying to protect. By single handedly destroying the majority of the town he showed the legislature the fragility of what they were trying to protect.


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Afraid to be alone?


Bennett Deady

Region/ Concepts: Iraq, Fear

Sub-concepts: Madness, Solitude

Description: Few years ago, Sarah Shroud and two friends were hiking the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan when they were captured by Iranian troops and accused of being spies. Each of them had their own tiny cell and had been forced to spend more time in isolation than ever imaginable.

Interpretation: Everyone needs there alone time, but time spent ‘alone, alone’ or in extreme isolation can lead to serious problems. Our minds are extremely powerful and certainly have the ability to play tricks on us. This is one of the reasons that so many people fear solitude, because of the potential to lose our ability to control our thoughts and our minds. What is interesting to think about his how your mind can actually work against you in a time like this. In a time where you need control of your mind more so than any other you are likely to completely lose grip. That is scary to think about. Sarah Shroud was forced to learn this the hard way. During her time of captivity and isolation she spent as many as 10,000 hours with minimal human contact before eventually being let go by the soldiers. She experienced hallucinations and flashing lights often time jerking her head around to see that there wasn’t actually anything there. “At one point, I heard someone screaming, and it wasn’t until I felt the hands of the one the friendlier guards on my face, trying to revive me, that I realized the screams were my own,” said Shroud describing one of here many gruesome experiences. It’s amazing how the gap between the times we need alone and the alone time that we all fear can create such psychological issues within our minds, and how afraid of it we actually are. Even people with great discipline and control fall victim to their own minds when forced to experience such trauma, like a soldier taken prisoner for example. Researchers know how problematic isolation can be and that it actually triggers immediate stress hormones and inflammation, but they do not know why. Still they are yet to understand how our minds can become so warped so quickly during these times of what are usually to be considered crisis. Certain people have probably found incomprehensive ways to stop it, to keep control of their minds, but for the remainder, for anyone not capable of such, it makes sense to fear such isolation.

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Affects of Superstition

Name: Elijah Arnold

Region/Concept: Japan/Emotion-Mood

Sub-concepts: Restriction, superstition, fear

Description: In olden times, Japan has had a wide spread superstition of the zashiki-warashi which is translated into the “parlor-child”. This is a child that if “found” to occupy your home will bring you good luck, however if you leave, you will die. This child is a matter of life and death.

In this superstition, a Japanese family would believe that a child (sometimes two) at no more than 12 years of age would decide to occupy a house along with the owners. Whenever a person would hear noises and moving around when a room was empty, they would assume the zashiki-warashi came to inhabit the home. When the child(ren) would occupy the home, they would bring great prosperity to the home and occupants. However, as many people do, they move to another location for many reasons. When this happens the “parlor-child” would destroy their lives. In two extreme cases, after the families acknowledged the parlor-child one entire family was poisoned and killed after eating some mushrooms. In the other case, the family was brought great riches after the acknowledgement.

In this kind of superstition, the immense amount of control given to this one child causes great fear. This kind of fear can place huge restrictions on a family. It can make them wary of their everyday living. They can never leave a place again without feeling something is going to kill them. They can consistently distrust anyone and everything around them. At the same time, a family can spend a lifetime trying to find the zashiki-warshi to bring them prosperity and possibly deliver the family from whatever is causing them anguish. This is also a problem because they can be stuck in a state of false-hope. They can use this child as a scapegoat for everything and the savior of their lives. One last problem with this is that people can falsely believe they have this zashiski-warashi child in their home and as a superstition and be causing unnecessary stress of being plagued with something that could possibly not even exist and that’s the horror of a superstition. It may only be true for some, not all.

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Week 6 Magzhan Kenesbai / Nightmares

Week 6

Name: Magzhan Kenesbai

Region/Concept: Study by the University of Copenhagen / Nightmares & madness

Situation: A recent study by the University of Copenhagen and Glostrup Hospital have discovered that individuals who are born blind experience 25% more nightmares than their not blind peers. They also uncovered that people who later turn blind experience an increase in nightmares, yet not anywhere as substantial as people who are born blind.

Theory: As with the story, Beirut Nightmares, the people who were tested during the clinical trials showed constant reoccurrence of nightmares. The clinical trials although tested on non-insane humans, has proved how nightmares can affect the human state. As with the narrator in the story, the world she saw, the horrifies that she encountered led her to experience constant nightmares. Same as with the people in the clinical trials, the people who were blind had to create imaginary fears about the surroundings and be constantly experiencing nightmares.

Interpretation: People who are able to see, witness the horrors and delights of the every day world. Their sights are later analyzed by the brain and the information is sorted. Every danger, every positive encounter has its own resonance within the brain and creates a responding emotional and mental signal. Blind people, due to their lack of sight, cannot interpret the beauties and dangers of everyday life. They cannot envision and have a respective mental response to the stairways, the cars, and the hidden dangers of our modern word. Their brans have to create an alternative reality and realm in order to cope with the lack of information from sight. The blind, in the case studies, experience 25% more nightmares than the average individual and this happens due to their brains response to the lack of sight. Their brain creates internal fears and worries and creates new realities for which nightmares happen.

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